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Citrus enjoying big turnaround, team chemistry

Most times it's used as a bad cliche. For the Citrus baseball team, it's just a statement of fact: What a difference a year makes.

Last season, the Hurricanes struggled and finally finished with a 6-21 record.

This year's team is the newly crowned District 7 champion, having clinched the title in an extra-inning game Friday night.

Today at 7:30 p.m., the Hurricanes (15-8) will host Hudson (14-13) in the North I Region quarterfinals at the Citrus field.

"It's nice to win the district and play at home," first-year head coach Mike Taylor said. "I think being at home is an advantage. Winning the district was our main goal this year and we thought we had a chance. Over the long haul of the season, we've done pretty good."

Tonight's game will match two teams that are similar in many ways. Both struggled early in the year, then put together win streaks that propelled them into the top seed at their respective district tournaments. At one point, Hudson was 2-5 on the season. Citrus went on a streak of its own, winning nine of 10 at one point late in the year.

After a year like last season, the atmosphere around the Citrus camp is upbeat.

"We're pretty excited," said junior second baseman Bruce Arnold. "It's a big turnaround from last year. I wasn't on varsity last year, but I know it was pretty rough."

Citrus pitcher/second baseman Raymond Maillet was a member of the varsity team last season. He said this year's team adopted a completely different approach at the beginning of the year. And it has paid off.

"We've worked very hard this season to get to where we're at," Maillet said. "We're a close team and we work well together. Last year we had a bunch of people that didn't care. This year everyone cares. Everyone thinks the same and wants the same _ to go far."

If they are to go any farther, the Hurricanes will have to stop a lineup that has made an art form out of hitting, including double-figure home runs. The team boasts two of Pasco County's top hitters in Ken Davis (.446) and Derrick Victor (.439).

"I've talked to four or five different coaches that have played them and they all say their top four hitters are real tough," Taylor said.

Citrus also will have to contend with Hudson sophomore pitcher Chris Way, who was 8-3 on the season and throws more than 80 miles an hour.

"He's going to be the best or second-best pitcher we've faced all season," Taylor said. "We'll have to make an adjustment to that kind of velocity. We haven't seen that before."

Citrus will counter with its ace, Paul LaChance, with Jeff Lee behind the plate and batting .500.

"This time of year, you've got to have a great game and play your best of the year or you're going to go home," Taylor said. "We've been playing pretty consistent lately. We've pitched real good, played defense well and hit decent."

A win tonight would advance Citrus to the North I Region semifinals Friday night. And just because the team has achieved its first priority _ a district championship _ that doesn't mean it is ready to call it a season.

"We want to keep playing," Arnold said.

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